A multi-sectoral group on Tuesday held a protest rally at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to assail the poll body’s decision granting Smartmatic an extended warranty for the repair of 82,000 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines that will be recycled for the 2016 polls.
The group, composed of IT organizations and experts, Church leaders, members of the academe, non-government organizations (NGOs), people’s organizations and civic groups demanded the revocation of a Comelec resolution approving an extended warranty agreement proposed by Smartmatic for the repair of the PCOS machines that the poll body bought in 2012.
“We are appalled by the fact that the Comelec resolution smacks of a midnight deal and cutting of corners based on unacceptable reasons that compromise the provisions of the procurement as well as election laws,” the group said in a protest letter.
“It was in disregard of the urgent concerns raised in recent Joint Congressional Oversight Committee hearings on the Automated Election System calling for thorough reports from Comelec on the latest discoveries and explanations by no less than the Technical Evaluation Committee of the Department of Science and Technology on the digital distortions of ballot images from the PCOS machines that, according to the official report, ‘could have affected the results [counting]of the elections’ and ‘would be difficult to clean,’” the group added.
The protest letter was signed by Broderick Pabillo, executive secretary of the Manila Auxiliary Bishop and Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP); Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles; and Sister or Mary John Mananzan, among others.
The convenor of Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections (C3E) and officers of the Automated Election System (AES) Watch, Center for People Empowerment and Governance (CenPEG), Transparentelections.org and militant groups Makabayan, Gabriela and Migrante International also signed the letter.
Other signatories included former Comelec Commissioner Augusto Lagman, former national treasurer Leonor Briones, Philippine Computer Society president Edmundo Casiño, former congressman Glenn Chong, CEnPEG chairman Temario Rivera, Dr. Gregorio Mariano of the Global Filipino Nation and former Gabriela party-list Rep. Liza Masa.
Aside from the scrapping of the extended warranty to Smartmatic, the group also asked the poll body to defer the award of the diagnostic contract until after the retirement of Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. and senior Commissioners Elias Yusoph and Lucenito Tagle.
Brillantes, Yusoph and Tagle are set to retire in February 2015.
“The outgoing officials must inhibit themselves from any long-term decision-making, especially on critical issues involving the questionable counting accuracy of the Smartmatic-provided PCOS machines, out of a sense of propriety or delicadeza,” it said.
The protesters explained that they wanted the incoming Comelec chairman and commissioners to have the prerogative to exercise their decision over the matter “as they also have the right and duty to review the contract for they are the ones who will be there to see it materialize and be accountable to.”
“It is their reputations that are at stake for whatever outcome this midnight deal between the Comelec and Smartmatic might produce,” they said.
The group stood firm that Smartmatic “should be banned from participating in the current and future election procurement processes on the basis of numerous accounts of ownership misrepresentation and non-compliance with election and government procurement laws.”
“It is our moral and legal obligation to stop this blatant mockery of the rule of law in the country and the continued subservience of the Comelec to foreign automated poll system provider Smartmatic and Cesar Flores [president of the firm’s Philippine office]who is allowed to malign and libel even reputable Filipino information technology experts and legitimate organizations,” it said.
“After two automated elections [in 2010 and 2013], the Comelec should now have developed its own technical capability to undertake the PCOS repairs and other services, thus, reducing its dependence on foreign outsourcing and cutting costs in the end,” the group added.